The Worldly Wise in Scripture

Scripture Reading

At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.

Matt. 11:25

Worldly Wise People

For readers who pride themselves on being worldly wise and highly judicious in their ways, this is a verse from Jesus that you should not pass over lightly. In short, the mysteries of the kingdom of God are being hidden from individuals who flaunt their own wisdom instead of heeding the wisdom that comes from God. It was for this very reason that Jesus often criticized the religious leaders of that era, commonly known as the scribes and pharisees. In the same manner, Jesus also upbraided entire cities such as Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for refusing to believe his mighty works as recorded in Matt. 11:20-24. 

With this noted, this makes for great prelude and context to expound upon this week’s scripture reading about the worldly wise in scripture. The majority of scripture referenced in this study comes from the apostle Paul’s letters to the churches. Paul wrote similar comments about the wisdom of the wise in contrast to the wisdom of God in his letter to the church in Corinth. This is presented in caption-like verse given its importance for this Bible Study. In short, Paul portrays the fallacy of people who profess to be wise and prudent, especially when it comes to believing in God.

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where [is] the wise? where [is] the scribe? where [is] the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

[1 Cor. 1:18-21]

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

1 Cor. 1:19b

Peril of Worldly Wisdom

Paul’s words were an indictment of the wisdom from worldly wise people who are made foolish by the works and word of God. Paul further proclaimed this message in his second letter to the Corinthian church, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” [2 Cor. 4:3]  Does this not often seem to be the case when the gospel is preached to seemingly wise people who tend to have a reaction of indifference towards it? Paul also wrote of this in his letter to the church in Rome, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” [Rom. 1:22] This contradiction of thinking, when one thinks they have all the answers, is really nothing more than foolishness in God’s eyes. Paul’s writings resonated along this same message further on in his letter by making pointed comments toward the wise, “Be not wise in your own conceits.” [Rom. 12:16]

The subject of the worldly wise in scripture also reminds us of common themes expressed by Jesus in his Sermon on the mount. His sermon portrayed people who knew their need for God in their lives and this need came with blessings from him. Consider these themes from the sermon on the mount such as the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness and the pure in heart. Are not all of these antithetical to the prideful wordly wise who see themselves above any need for religion in their lives?

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

Rom 1:22

Finally, on this same topic, consider how Paul cautioned people to beware of false perceptions of wisdom in this world, “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.  Therefore let no man glory in men.” [1 Cor. 3:18-21] Paul was quick to point out that a person’s faith should instead stand in the power of God, “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” [1 Cor. 2:5]

Not Many Wise

With this context in place of outlining the perils of the wisdom of the world, or rather a sense of self wisdom, let us now transition to the wisdom that comes from God. Note how Paul highlights how many believers were not called to Christ based on their own wisdom; it was rather the very opposite, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called.] ” [1 Cor. 1:26] Further to this, Paul points out that many of us could be considered foolish and weak as he continues on in the next verse, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” [1 Cor. 1:27] All these references on wise, wisdom and fools is a lot to take in but it will all come together!

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;

1 Cor 1:27a

Babes in Scripture

First, let us go back to this week’s scripture reading. Jesus indicated that the Father in heaven has hid the things of God from the wise and the prudent and revealed them unto babes. But what exactly does he mean when he says babes? Is he implying young children? The short answer is no, not at all but he is likening those to whom the word of God is revealed as individuals who receive it like young children. Think how children look with wondrous eyes and inquisitiveness when learning something and accept it without skepticism or judgment. This does not mean people should not be discerning but it helps to point out how the so called wise and prudent can often reject the gospel message through its seeming simplicity as noted in 2 Cor. 11:3.

This is why Jesus made the following statement about little children and the gospel message, “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” [Matt. 18:5]  He was not talking about being immature like children, rather he was talking about being receptive to the message as a young child would be when they hear it. Jesus also proclaimed later on to the chief priests and scribes the same message, “And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” [Matt. 21:16]

The apostle Paul also wrote of the need to speak to early believers in Christ also as babes, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, [even] as unto babes in Christ.” [1 Cor. 3:1]  In the same way, the apostle Peter also wrote to believers in his first letter by describing them, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” [1 Pet. 2:2] By humbly learning from God at the feet of Jesus in humility and with a contrite heart it indeed opens up our heart to the hearing of his word.

Wisdom of God

Let us recap thus far as we have covered a lot of ground pertaining to wisdom. The portrait of worldly wisdom has been presented in contrast and context to the wisdom of God and rightly so, since the prince of this world largely influences the wisdom of this world. Jesus noted the influence of the prince of this world when he said, “Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” [John 14:30] Paul also tied this together by making the distinction between worldly wisdom in contrast to wisdom of God, “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, [even] the hidden [wisdom,] which God ordained before the world unto our glory.” [1 Cor. 2:6-7]

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery,

1 Cor. 2:7a

God’s Wisdom in Scripture

So how should we then turn to God for wisdom in a world that often makes a mockery of God? Are we destined to be worldly wise in scripture? No, not at all. God reveals his wisdom and knowledge to us in many ways. The first area godly wisdom is acquired from is in the scriptures as Paul noted, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” [2 Tim. 3:15] References to learning from God’s word is noted in other scriptural references from Paul’s writings, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” [Col. 3:16] Reading of the scriptures, even for Christians has become subordinated to all other pursuits and activities but this was not always the case. Historically, the scriptures had a more prominent role in people’s lives with frequent daily readings, in school, and as we shall see next in prayer.

God’s Wisdom in Prayer

In addition to scripture, wisdom from God is also given to us by the Holy Spirit through prayer, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” [Eph. 1:17] Paul noted prayers for wisdom in many of his letters, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard [it,] do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” [Col. 1:9] In the world today, prayer often becomes important only during desperate times but this should not be the case; prayer must really be part of a believer’s daily walk with God.

The apostle James also wrote in his letter on the importance of seeking wisdom from God through prayer, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” [Jam. 1:5-6] Godly wisdom is actually imparted unto us by God as Paul notes in his letters, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” [Eph. 1:17]

The wisdom from God is often described in scripture with themes of moral goodness and wholesome intent as shown in the writings of James the apostle, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, [and] easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” [Jam. 3:17] When studying the worldly wisdom in scripture, one realizes that godly wisdom as shown in these verses, is never coupled with wrongful thoughts, intentions and self fulfilling wisdom.

…be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

Col. 1:9b

Proclaiming God’s Wisdom

Let us close off this Bible study on the worldly wise in scripture by highlighting a few verses to proclaim the wisdom of God. Take for example Paul’s first letter to Timothy where he makes this bold declaration of God’s wisdom, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, [be] honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” [1 Tim. 1:17] Also contemplate upon this similar proclamation from Jude, “To the only wise God our Saviour, [be] glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” [Jude 1:25] it is verses in the Bible like these where seekers of faith should find inspiration for their soul and spirit in seeking God’s wisdom for all needs in their life.

In conclusion on the worldly wisdom in scripture, let us end with Paul’s notable expression of praise, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” [Rom. 11:33]  It is no wonder that the multitudes were so astonished with the teaching of Jesus by questioning it, “And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this [man] this wisdom, and [these] mighty works? ” [Matt. 13:54] Ask yourself therefore, to whom should you seek eternal wisdom from, whether it be from the world, or from God? For it is only God’s wisdom where eternal treasures await, “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” [Col. 2:3]

Bible Study Questions

  1. In this study on the worldly wise in scripture, why do you think people who are worldly wise often reject God’s word?
  2. Can you name two religious groups who rejected the preaching of Jesus during his earthly ministry?
  3. Fill in the blanks from Rom. 1:22, Professing themselves to be _______________, they became ______________
  4. How would you explain the use of the phrase babes in scripture as it relates to the teaching of God’s wisdom?
  5. From the teaching in this study, seeking God’s wisdom can be obtained from reading scripture and praying to God, true or false?
  6. For building your faith, memorize Romans 11:33 as noted in the section called Proclaiming God’s Word.
  7. What is something you could do today to seek God’s wisdom in your daily faith walk with him?

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